Thursday, January 20, 2011

No Retreat, No Regrets Part I

In the previous post, I talked about a certain form of self-deception. Preparation. How we tend to believe we are prepared in our hearts and heads for some impending experience or emotion, and how, too often, those preparations are lacking in some degree.

Another famous trick I/we tend to play upon our unsuspecting self is addressed by the infamous tagline, "No Regrets"....

Each of us have thought or spoken the cliche phrase at some point in our life, whether it was with a Sharpie in a high school yearbook that smells like fresh ink and hormones, or in our thoughts on the past while New Year's fireworks crowded the stars. I would also say that many of us believed it....or at least voiced it like we did--with a bravado that would have made politicians jealous.

"I don't have any regrets."

"I don't regret nothing."

"Regrets? What are those?"

((Some alteration of this phrase depending on your speech pattern and communication skill.))


Before we continue. Let's attempt a definition.

Regret is an emotion most closely synonymous to guilt. Regret only exists when one's own actions are being considered.
  • For example, I cannot regret the punishment of an innocent man, when I had nothing to do with his trial. I can, however, regret my action of providing false evidence against that same man. A man I knew to be innocent.
  • I cannot regret the alienation faced by new students at schools across the country. I can, however, regret my own ridiculing actions against my freckled classmate in middle school.
Regret is based on our actions, yet it is also impacted by the consequences of those actions.
Positive consequences, or those which seem at least neutral, are easily accepted by our conscience, even if the actions which created them were disgusting. However, negative consequences following negative actions, create the sickening, nauseating feeling we label "regret".
  • If the innocent man is freed through some unforeseen act of Fate, I will sleep much better than I would if the judge had recommended the death sentence. My action, providing false evidence, is the same, but the consequence makes all the difference.
  • If the child I bullied in middle school grows up to be the head of a multi-billion dollar corporation, I will not regret my actions on a moral level. I may, in my terrific selfishness, regret them because they will ruin any chance at sharing in his success. However, if the offended child suffers through high school until a necktie ends his life in a dark closet, my regret will be very real and very deep, indeed.

One more thing about regret, and this will touch briefly on a point made at a later time, is that regret is very much like a parasite or a disease in that we can be carriers without exhibiting any of the symptoms. We may have the ingredients (Negative action + Negative consequence), but the actual regret remains dormant until sometime in the near or distant future. I may commit an act at age 7, but I may not feel regret for that act until age 54. This is because the possibility of regret is constantly changing with our personal maturity and development. And, compounding this fact, some consequences take years to reach their darkest fruition.
  • I may not hear about the innocent man's electrocution until I am an old man, far removed from the ethically-starved lawyer of my youth.
  • I may not discover the truth about "Freckle Face" until I graduate from college and return home and see the headline in a newsstand outside the Shell station.

((Another side of the coin which says our chances for regret are constantly evolving, deals with our maturing sense of ethics and morality. This is perhaps my weakest point, but I think there is some basis, especially when one considers the retrospection exhibited by many elderly people. The sunset of life can often be a time when the brightest colors and darkest shadows are all that remains. In this time, after lessons have been learned and morals discovered, one might glance back on the spectrum of events and feel regret over a scenario otherwise forgotten or dismissed as unimportant. A shadowed memory rather than a sunny remembrance. This regret is only possible because of the wisdom attained through experience, research, study, introspection, etc. Without this knowledge, there is no possibility for regret. Yet another support beam for the "Ignorance is Bliss" platform.))


This is most definitely a working definition. I have undoubtedly left out important characteristics which some of you may recognize. I may even be completely wrong about my approach. If so, please post your remarks and corrections below, or give me a rhetorical backhand next time I see you. With love, of course. Be gentle for you tread on my dreams....or perhaps just my wandering thoughts....which are not quite as fragile.

I think we can all agree, regardless of your acceptance of my own definition, regret is one of the rare times when we look back on our personal past and pinpoint a decision, an action, a thought, and feel a negative emotion. Most of the time, we shift that negative emotion onto someone else or some other thing (blame, justification, etc), but regret. Ah, regret. We feel the sting....that is....if we allow Honesty to enter the courtroom and send Pride out like an unruly juror.


Now that we have defined regret, there are no doubt a variety of arguments for and against regret as an acceptable or unacceptable response to our past.

Regret as Unacceptable: What's done is done. You cannot change the past. Why spend your time, energy, and emotion, fretting about things you cannot change?

Regret as Acceptable: Can we really think of an instance in our past, a mistake which we know directly caused another person pain, emotionally or physically, and not feel some amount of sorrow? Some amount of responsibility which we experience through guilt?

((on the surface, I find myself most closely associated with the second instance. It is true we must not cling to the past. We must not allow our mistakes to drag us down to the point where our present and future selves are useless. However, it is not possible for the human mind to purposefully forget an action or event. Our personal past is inscribed in our mind just as the historical past is inscribed on stone and paper. It is a common sentiment to learn from history in order to avoid making the same mistakes. An aspiring dictator would do well to study the failure of previous totalitarian rulers, just as I would do well to remember my own personal failures in order to become a better version of myself. I will end this rabbit trail by reminding the key factor is Moderation. Balance. An obsession with past faults only creates misery, while an absolution of the past creates a repetitive cycle of mistakes))


I will not deal at length with which side I find myself supporting. As I said earlier, I lean toward the usefulness of an amount of regret and recognition of past errors. I know this because I struggle with regrets. I look back on my life and wish I had done things differently. Now. I will separate that confession into two camps.

1. The first camp deals with regret over actions committed which hurt someone.
2. The second camp deals with regret over actions which I feel ruined the personal attainment of positive things--happiness, relationships, success, accomplishments.

We have already discussed a definition of the first sort and included examples which may or may not have helped with understanding. It is ironic (and unplanned) that so much time was spent on the first, because it was my intention to limit this post to the second idea. My thoughts for this post originated in the boiling discomfort of the soul when one looks back at a period in time and fears that personal actions (or lack thereof) kept one from boarding a train bound for bliss and beauty.

I am sure I am not the only one to feel such a nauseating impulse:

A---> It is the feeling after meeting someone beautiful and regretting the stupid speech you gave on the mating habits of the North American tree sloth....I am NOT speaking from experience. It is a hyperbolic example to prove a point.

B---> It is the feeling after an interview when you remember one aspect of your personal character which never made it onto your resume.

C---> It is the feeling after leaving someone you love and wondering if you should have stayed.

I include the last example, not to create a morose, romantic sympathy in the reader, but to express the depth this emotion can reach. Sure, there are silly times, but there are also real times. Earth-shattering times. Future-destroying times. Times when you honestly do not know how you could have been so stupid, harsh, or selfish. Times when you see that moment in your mind's eye and wish before God and man to return and do it again.

This regret is not concerned with self-transformation but with self-correction. This regret is not concerned with learning from the past, but with redoing the past. And since we humans can redo our past about as well as an oak tree can reenter an acorn, this regret is pointless.

I find it odd that I struggle much more with this form of regret than with the other. I am not sure of the reasons for this, but I can assure you I aim to investigate the matter and bring the guilty character traits to justice. be continued

((Any kind of investigation is useless outside of Scripture. The discovery, if I made one at all, would very likely shock and disturb, rather than challenge or encourage. I am struggling with tackling too many things at one time, but I really would like to include some thoughts from God about regret and where it fits with His plan for our thoughts and emotions.

If you have any thoughts of your own, or if you know of any places in the Bible that deal with regret, please let me know.))


  1. Amazing Matt!!!!! I will admit that this caught me off guard a bit.. But it really is an AMAZING piece of work you have here.. I look forward to part 2.. Remember: "my mind was made to create, explore, and conquer" And i believe this was a true example of creating an understanding, exploring situations, and conquering the need to understand the situations of life. If I had a hat.. i would take it of to you! (:

  2. not really a comment about your writing (although you are muy talented, my friend). just wanted to say hi and that i miss you. that is all. :)